In poker, there are premium hands, strong hands, and weak hands. While it is possible to make the most out of any hand you are dealt with, the popular opinion is that weak hands are better off folded. Yet, if you must become a winning player, it is important that you have a respectable range of hands you’re willing to play. This brings us to the question, are every hand worth playing? I’ll be answering this question exhaustively in the following paragraphs.
Should you play every hand in poker? No, players who play every hand in poker are more likely to lose bets compared to players who don’t. However, poker is a game where a lot can change by a simple change in position or action.
For example, if an opponent hasn’t opened the pot before you, it makes sense to play your hand, notwithstanding its strengths. In the case that an opponent ahead of you raises, you should consider being extremely selective with the hands you play.
While it isn’t particularly wise to play every hand in poker, certain hands should be played more often than not. Yet, there will be instances where these same ”premium” hands may not be safe to play. Your choice of hands is heavily dependent on external variables.
Factors that Affect the Hands you Choose to Play
Depending on the situation you’re facing, playing a particular hand can be wise or downright disastrous. Hence, when looking at the matter of which hand to play, it is essential to consider all variables involved. The following factors will determine whether a hand is worth playing or not.
- The Strength of Your Hand: The most obvious factor that affects the hands you play is undoubtedly its strengths.
There are around 169 playable groups of hands in poker, and only 5 of them are regarded as premium hands.
They are AA, QQ, KK, AKs(same suit), and JJ. Irrespective of your bankroll and chip position, you should always look to play these hands.
The only situation where you may need to back down with these hands is when the bet amount becomes too high. If there is a lot of action before your turn by good tight opponents, then you should refrain from playing either of the above hands unless you have aces or kings.
- Opponent’s Playing Style: Another factor that should determine whether it is profitable to play a hand is the playing style of your opponent.
Typically, a player who is playing passively indicates he/she more than likely hold hands that aren’t too profitable. On the other hand, a tight-aggressive player is an indication of an above-average hand.
When a player raises you with a potentially strong hand, your odds reduces at that moment, ensuring that your range of playable hand in that situation reduces.
Tighter the opponent’s range of hands, worse we do with our looser hands.
- Position: One of the first lessons a beginner learns about poker strategy is that position is everything. Certain moves that may be rewarding in late position can be a massive mistake in early positions. If no one has either limped or raised in front of you, then it is profitable to play a broader range of hands. But when a raise has been made ahead of you, then your playable hands becomes restricted.
In this situation, your best move is to stick to hands that can prevent you from being in a position where you’re dominated.
For example, a hand like KQ should never be called in early position if someone has raised already. The reason is that KQ will always be dominated by AQ, QQ, AK, KK, and AK in that scenario. And because the opponent opened in the early position, his range will be tight.
- Experience: As is with almost every activity on earth, experience counts. If you’re a beginner poker player, it’s okay to ease yourself in. Don’t look to play too many hands because you simply don’t have the experience to play them profitably.
The more experience you garner, the better your post-flop strategy. Therefore, pros will always have a wider range of playable hands than beginners who are just starting out.
- Equity: Equity is the mathematical advantage a hand has over another. Certain hands have an equity advantage over others, giving them a slight edge in a hand.
Hence, you should always look to determine what kind of hand your opponent (not a single hand but a range of hands) is playing and whether or not your hand has equity over it.
If your hand has a 55/45 equity over your opponent’s hand, it means you’ll win 55% of the times you play this hand. In the case that you play it 10,000 times, you’ll undoubtedly win around 5,500 times.
To maximize your hand’s equity, you need to have your mathematics right in other to understand your opponent’s hand. You also need to account in post-flop playability.
Pocket deuces, for example, are a slight favorite against AK, but they don’t make you more money. For an in-depth look at why AK makes more money than pocket deuces, check this article.
Best Starting Hands
When speaking in terms of preflop, the best starting hand in no-limit Texas Hold’em is undoubtedly pocket aces. Yet, when moving from flop to the river, the answer is not quite as straightforward.
With different variables coming to play, your strong hand can quickly become vulnerable. For example, a strong hand like pocket kings only need a single ace on the top to look vulnerable. Even a premium hand like pocket aces has a 12% chance of losing out to trash hands like 7-2 .
This rollercoaster nature of Texas Hold’em also accounts for its appeal. Even the worst players with the worst hands can beat the best hands several times in a row.
If you are up against more players, then your odds of winning with AA goes even lower. I have a great article about odds of winning with pocket Aces here.
With that said, the fact remains that hands like kings, queens, and pocket aces will dominate other starting hands because of their better odds. Below is a list of the top 10 starting hands in Texas Hold’em based on random hands vs all in percentage.
- Pocket Aces: As earlier established, pocket aces are easily the best starting hands in Texas Hold’em. If you’re dealt pocket aces preflop, then there’s no doubt you hold the best hand in that round.
One of the most important benefits of holding pocket aces is that you get to dominate other strong hands like QQ, JJ, and KK. Having the edge over other strong hands increases your chances of winning a huge pot.
Normally, the ideal way to play this hand is to go hard on the bets.
However, you will have to be wary of running into a dangerous board with flush or straight possibilities. Also, your chances with pocket aces improve as the number of players in a hand reduces. Statistically, your chances of being dealt pocket aces stand at once every 221 hands.
- Pocket Kings: Closely following pocket aces in the order of the best starting hands is pocket kings. Pocket kings is an absolute gem of a hand to hold preflop. The consensus on this one is that they should never be folded preflop (that is unless an opponent is dealt pocket aces.).
Pocket kings are only ever in danger when an opponent’s ace hits the flop. The resultant effect is that your pocket kings become vulnerable to weak aces like A-2 and A-9. The only remedy in this situation is to reduce your betting and try to control the pot size.
- Pocket Queen: Pocket queens are another strong starting hand that you should look to play as often as possible. The majority of players who are dealt pocket queens usually bet hard preflop as a strategic play to figure out if their opponents hold premium hands like ace-king, kings, or aces and also to value bet against weaker hands.
On its own, pocket queens will dominate hands like A-T, A-J, A-Q, and JJ. Therefore your objective is to increases the pot significantly preflop.
However, the flop can be a tricky one since kings and aces will dominate your pocket queens. Overall, pocket queens are a premium hand that should be on your list of playable hands irrespective of your experience.
- Pocket Jacks: Many poker players consider pocket jackets to be one of the hardest hands to play despite its considerably decent winning percentage. Pocket jacks are dominated by pocket kings, pocket kings, and pocket aces while it holds a 50/50 chance against ace-king. As a result of being dominated by the hands as mentioned above, it is always advisable to play pocket jacks with caution but aggressive.
Despite its shortcomings, pocket jacks are still a decent starting hand. They dominate drawing hands like Q-J, J-T, and K-J, including all pairs from TT to 22.
Despite its strength, when you do hit a flop filled with dangerous cards like aces and kings, you should consider letting it go.
- Ace King Suited: The ace-king suited is a bit special. This starting hand is a favorite of many pro poker players because of its knack for hitting the best flushes and straights.
Ace-king also does incredibly well when you hit aces on the flop because if your opponents hold a king or an ace, your potential winnings increase significantly.
However, if you whiff the flop, then ace-king suited turns into a weak ace high. In that case, you should be willing to let it go. Overall, ace-king suited is a strong starting hand that will produce better results in the hands of an experienced player.
- Pocket Tens: Pocket tens are classed in a lower group of starting hands, although, they are the best of the bunch. Against rags, pocket tens do well. However, they are absolutely crushed by JJ, QQ, KK, and AA while holding a 50/50 chance against ace-kings. Big pairs remain strong and are great for betting preflop and post-flop as long as the board does not present dangerous cards like kings, queens, limited aces, and others.
If pocket tens hit a set on the board (another ten), it can leap ahead of its competition. Overall, you should always consider the activities of your opponents before playing pocket tens preflop. If there’s heavy betting in front of you, it won’t be a bad idea to fold pocket tens. If not, then you can raise them yourself or set mine.
- Ace King Offsuit: ace-king offsuit suffers in the power rankings when it’s up against ace-king suited because it doesn’t possess similar outs to hit a flush. That said, it is still a relatively strong drawing hand that does well against non-pairs while holding a 50/50 chance against pairs excluding pocket kings and pocket aces.
The most notable strength of Ace king offsuit is its ability to dominate weaker ace-x hands. Having a top pair and top kicker is always better than having a top pair and second-highest kicker J.
- Ace-Queen Suited: Ace queen is another good drawing hand that runs out of steam on the flop if it doesn’t improve by a pair at least. Since it holds the ”ace” which is the highest card of all suits, it is able to hit the nut flush.
Yet, ace-queen suited doesn’t do so well against pocket kings, pocket queens, and pocket aces. While facing ace-king will cause it to lose because of a lower kicker.
- Pocket Nines: While pocket nines is another strong pair, it is absolutely dominated by premium pairs like JJ, QQ, KK, AA, and TT. When playing pocket nines, you need to take all necessary caution since you’re likely to face a host of cards that will easily beat you.
However, if the action has been folded to you in late position, pocket nines is a profitable hand to play.
Another instance where pocket nines are strong is in heads up scenarios when they square up against weaker cards. One more information worthy of note as regards playing pocket nines is that you stand a 50/50 chance against a large number of connectors that your opponents play from A-K to J-T
- Ace Jack Suited: Ace jack suited is another on the list of starting hands that do well against a variety of random hands while getting crushed by premium hands. Its position is similar to pocket jacks’ position at the bottom of premier pairs, with the only difference being that it is at the bottom of drawing hands like ace-queen and ace-king.
If you’re a beginner poker player, ace-jack suited is probably one of those hands that will wreck your stack. Many players with little experience had lost huge pots when they flopped an ace that was crushed by an ace-queen or ace-king. It is, therefore, paramount to play this hand with extreme caution.
There is a lot more than this short paragraph in terms of strategy for each of the hands.
If you are new to poker, then the following free instructional poker site will be of great benefit for you. Moreover, you don’t need to risk a single penny to start playing for real money. Just complete their quiz, and you can start with free $50 on a poker site.
Players who Play Every Hand
Certain players will play any hand no matter how strong it is. They are called loose players, and the general consensus on them is that they are not considered as being particularly excellent players, to put it mildly.
Many players condemn this strategy because it costs a lot of money to see so many flops. That said, this strategy does have one advantage. Since loose players play so many hands, they can mask the strengths of their starting hands.
If a loose player plays any two cards, it’s almost impossible to know if he has a strong hand this time or not. Most loose players are either in it for the action or they hope to bet a little money on each hand in the hope of winning a few decent pots to cover up for the frequent losses they are bound to face. The following are the type of loose players you’ll encounter on a poker table:
- Loose Passive Players: These players are otherwise called blackjack players. They formulate a poker approach that is similar to blackjack. These players get two cards, place their bets, and are ready to see what they get. They conveniently hope for a 21, and when that’s not the case, you can be sure they’re hoping the dealer busts.
No matter how much their opponents raise, these players will call just about any hand preflop and are poised to call all streets down to the river with the hope that they make their hand.
When they lose a hand, they don’t worry much, as there’s another hand to bet on and try to win their money back. The best way to play against a blackjack player is to play tight and value bet your strong hands.
Raise as often as possible, and make them pay top dollar to see more cards. Unless they get extremely lucky, the odds are on you to triumph over these players more often than not. Don’t bluff them as they don’t fold. But be vary once they start betting. A passive player will only bet once he has something decent.
- Calling Station: The second category of loose players are the calling stations. The difference between these players and the blackjack player is that they do not play as many hands. However, if they hit any part of a flop, you can bet your house on the fact that they’re going to call down to the river. When facing a calling station, try not to bet too frequently. Since they’re going to call your bets regardless, do not slow play your big hand against them. It is also paramount not to bluff this kind of players because they are unlikely to fold. If this player raises, don’t hesitate to fold because he/she most likely has the nuts.
- Loose Aggressive Players: The last and probably the most dangerous category of loose players are the loose aggressive players. They are poised to bet and raise with a wide range of hands. Loose aggressive players can raise with a weak hand.
Some of them can even be complete aggro maniacs. Their betting pattern is never a function of the strength of their hand. When facing these players, you aim to isolate them.
They can be beaten with marginal hands, but the chances are the other players on the table are playing tight as well, and you simply cannot afford to take a marginal hand too far while facing players other than LAGs.
Their bets are largely meaningless since they like to play fancy. So, don’t be too quick to react to their bets. It is always best to play only premium hands against these players, and if you do play the right hands, the odds are on you to make a good profit.
Sometimes you will need to close the eyes and call them down even without a premium hand.
Now you know why you shouldn’t play every hand in poker. But there is so much more to learn about correct strategies and which hands to open from certain positions.
When I was starting out, I remember how helpful instructional videos were.
You probably can’t afford to hire yourself a poker coach, which would be the fastest way to learn a lot. Even if you do, then before you book anyone, you should know at least basics of how to play correctly.
Your best bets are to join one of the following coaching poker sites:
- PokersStrategy – first coaching site I joined. It’s free, and you receive up to $50 for free to play online. I became a winning player because of this site, and I am grateful I discovered them by chance on the internet. Anything from cash games to tournaments. A great free resource for every poker beginner.
- Upswing Poker – everyone knows Doug Polk, the famous HU high stakes player. This is his coaching strategy website. It does cost a monthly fee to be a member, but videos are top-notch.
- Tournament Poker Edge – maybe cash games aren’t what you are after. Then Tournament poker edge will have you covered with tournament strategy videos. Plenty of videos, for an okay price. I was a member for some time when I played tournaments professionally for a few months, then I saw I prefer cash games.
- Raise Your Edge – perhaps you want to master live cash games or to be a master of any sorts of tournaments or sit and go’s. This one is at elite pricing, but so is the quality that you will get. Their tournament strategy videos are fantastic, done by an elite tourney player. Best of the best.